Unless you just got online yesterday, I’m sure you have seen an example of classic internet forum discussion turned argument, usually aided via “trolls” just trying to push buttons and cause reactions.  I’ve seen it often and participated (sometimes honorably, sometimes stooping to the levels of others in blame/accusations) rarely, but only once in a while is there one that really gets under my skin.

And I actually find it fascinating, even when my blood is boiling and my patience is tried.  Every time it turns into a circular discussion where it’s obvious neither side will budge or admit any wrong doing, and the tactics are often the same low blows whether the discussion is religion, discrimination, politics…

I’d like to share some facts and analysis of one of these that occurred yesterday/today (and may still be ongoing).  The subject matter is really irrelevant, as I want to discuss (rationally) some of the tactics used by both myself and the other participants.

It’s long – I can’t figure out what to cut out of it now so I’ll put it behind a link.

It started as someone asking a mostly innocent question about a topic which could easily get heated, about a demographic that is the minority in the field of expertise the forum is dedicated to.

A well known, often respected professional in the field (we’ll refer to him as J)  is known to “call it like he sees it” and started off with blunt and questionably accurate answer, if you consider what the societal “norm” thinks.  This is followed up by a more reasonable answer that includes society/industry protocols, the psychology at hand, as well as the technology related to the field of expertise.  The third response took offense at the bluntness of J, and the lack of sensitivity/political correctness.  And so on…

Parts of the discussion were rational debates – do we hold society responsible or take accountability for our own actions? Is it the industry’s fault or do we play a role in supporting these standards? How does one address the technical challenges of this situation?  What is the definition of who fits into this demographic in the original question?  But the topic clearly drifted already from the original question at hand.

Stereotypes and assumptions of the demographic being discussed were often misleading or inflammatory, and usually shared by people who clearly did NOT fit into that demographic.  Replies ranged from incredulity at some of the assumptions  stated, to politically correct debate, to those who defended inflammatory remarks as fact, not opinion.

It was an interesting discussion,  and even though up to this point, I strongly disagreed with some of the viewpoints presented, it was their opinion.

And then the post that made me speak up.

J posted a statement clearly phrased as a fact although it was only his opinion.  I find it hard to sum up the statement leaving out the specifics of the situation.  He bragged about his wife not being in the demographic, and then stated that this demographic isn’t represented in the field because they are “unattractive”.

Whether you have an idea of the demographic and field in question or not, try filling out that sentence with ANY word and not have it offend a large population.  It was not stated as “I don’t think anyone in this demographic is attractive.”  That would have been a personal opinion – which many disagree with, but still, it’s an opinion.  But this was stated as fact.  And no one really was calling him out on this, so I did.

Thus I started taking part in the discussion, and like I said early on,  I’m sure you’ve witnessed these discussions/arguments before.  I am trying to avoid the play-by-play here, but where the discussion eventually hits is a very common impasse, which with a quick Google lead me to a term.

The tolerance paradox.

The tolerance paradox arises from the problem that a tolerant person is antagonistic toward intolerance, hence intolerant of it. The tolerant individual is by definition intolerant of intolerance, but in so being must be intolerant of himself. This problem is at the heart of the dilemma faced by pluralist societies who wish to embrace diversity, but in doing so ostensibly exclude those who do not embrace diversity, which includes a large portion of the world’s population.

It seems any internet argument where one person takes offense at an opinion (often not stated as opinion but fact), even when they agree that both sides have freedom of speech and the right to speak up, it comes down to this.  You are being intolerant of my intolerance.

This, and freedom of speech, are the battle cries.  No matter how offensive an opinion is, no matter how discriminatory and prejudice it is, how DARE you state your side, you are not respecting their rights to be an asshole.  And to use hate language like “prejudice”?  I replied that it was not hate language, prejudice by definition is “any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.” And the blanket statement by J that started my involvement was, most definitely, fitting that definition.

There are no winning sides on this argument.  While I believe that morally and ethically, prejudice and discrimination are wrong, the offenders do not believe they are behaving in those manners.  For this, I am accused of being touchy, having an attitude, of threatening the forum and opposing free speech.

I was criticized by many participants despite my arguments to the contrary that I supported his freedom of speech as well as mine.  Even a moderator’s post supported what was the crux of my issue – a lack of respect and politeness in how people presented their opinions.

Voltaire wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. What I don’t know is if he added a caveat “… but I expect you to phrase it in a way that is respectful of others”. However, take that add-on as read for [this forum] – we refer to it as the “be polite” rule in the FAQ.

Oh and J? Never replied directly to me at all, despite continuing to post in the thread and seemingly proud of “stirring up a hornets nest”.   Hmm.

I did not write this all out to prove I’m right, they’re wrong… as I pointed out before there are no winning sides to this argument.  I want to know – what do we do? What CAN we do?  Are we supposed to tolerate intolerance?  At what point does intolerance in opinions voiced become harmful?  I feel that it’s VERY harmful, and even when it doesn’t stem from actual hate (which, I think was the case in this instance – a matter of personal aesthetics and not hate), it perpetrates prejudice and discrimination.

Yes, everyone has a right to their opinion and a place to speak it (which is why I moved this dialog to my own blog).  But when it starts affecting human rights, when it supports negative and harmful stereotypes, concentrates on dividing “us vs them” (with “us” always being right), you can be damn sure I’m not going to tolerate that intolerance.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor suggests that (i) liberal democracy may be intolerant toward the intolerant. (ii) Liberal democracy can interfere to curtail some cultural norms (like female circumcision) which undermine its basic principles. And (iii) democracy may prevent cultural groups from entering society not only because enough reason exists to believe that their strength is intimidating to the extent of confronting democracy with a substantial danger, but, more fundamentally, because the conception they regard as a conception of the good essentially conflicts with basic liberal democratic norms. In such circumstances the entire society may be regarded as the target group which is threatened. While every idea possesses a claim to equal validity within a democratic society, considerations of context and intentions must be taken into account, and they may require the introduction of constraints. (Wikipedia)

Respect is important, and human rights are created precisely as tools to make different people with different beliefs and practices or habits live together peacefully. But they are not designed to protect practices which violate them. We can never tolerate intolerance and that we must always discriminate discrimination. One cannot force an idea to be self-destructive. A tolerant system tolerating intolerance or failing to discriminate those who discriminate, will never last very long. Those who are tolerant must be intolerant of those who are intolerant (and the latter include those who attack the institutions protecting tolerance, such as human rights).  (source)


Now that you’ve had plenty of food for thought on tolerance and internet arguments, the thread that started this debacle (or, my part in it) was on a photography forum.  The original poster – respectfully – was trying to discuss why plus size models are not seen as often, and was inquiring why – was it more challenging for the photographer, or are there fewer willing models who are plus size?  And the tolerance-award-winning post, by a professional who has 30-years experience in the field:

That’s one reason why I try stay away from modeling photography. Don’t know about those women sizes, but if it’s over a size 15 and from tent and awning company, then I’m quite knowledgeable to the fact that obese is obese and fat is fat, no matter how full figured they are.

My wife after three kids at 52-years-old, can still wear a size 6.

It’s just that photographing a full frame, plus woman, just make them look more fatter and unattractive.